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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Preservation, Annexation Lawsuit

Mayor Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Residents were able to weigh in on the progress of the convention center expansion, more on the mayor's task force on converting compostable organic material to fuel, and thoughts on how to preserve city character.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This episode was recorded on Facebook LIVE - you can watch the stream here.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Stakeholder and public meetings on the convention center expansion were scheduled a couple weeks ago, what did we miss at those meetings? What did you find out?

Hamilton: I don't want to prejudge this, but what we heard from the stakeholders was a number of different things. People cared a lot on what this facility is going to look like and how it represents our community for use inside the community and we have two million visitors come to Bloomington.

I agree having a convention center that really pulls people from the convention center into the community, and it welcomes people from the community into the convention center. There were concerns on how big it should be, there's concern that we're thinking for the future. We may not be able to get everything we want right now. We're early in the process, so we want people to feel welcome in mid-April to tell us how it should be like.

Hren: Some at the public forum wants the convention center to fit more into the neighbors and how residents live here. Does that go against to what a convention center is for?

Hamilton: I like a description of the center being the city's living room. It is a place we have banquets with nonprofits with fundraisers, so part of it is for us to have new ways to meet and engage, but a lot of it is for people coming to conventions. 

03-06-2019-monroe-convention-expansion-public-forum-board.jpg
The public forum gave residents a chance to give input on how the convention center expansion should progress. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: In your State of the City Address last month, you announced a new task force that would evaluate converting compostable organic material at the city’s wastewater plant into compressed natural gas to fuel public vehicles. You even said its complex and expensive – what do you know about this that would make this feasible?

Hamilton: There are three factors, we need to expand our wastewater plant. There are two ways to do it, expand what we have or switch to anaerobic digestion which means you use a process without air to digest the sewage - that's going to cost a lot of money, but we found out 40 percent of the trash the landfill material from our county is compostable. That's a hundred tons a day. We buy about half a million gallons of diesel and gasoline fuel every year to run Bloomington Transit, our snow plows, our sanitation trucks, our utility trucks. 

So not only the sewage does it do a good job of cleaning up, but it turns it into natural gas. That methane is the same material that can run busses trucks. This is not new, other cities have done this.

hamilton-state-of-city-podium-2019.jpg
Hamilton during his 2019 State of the City Address. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: I believe the court hearing on the annexation lawsuit is this month?

Hamilton: It's this week I think. That would be the judge hearing arguments from both sides, I think it's a summary judgment hearing, there's not a lot of facts in dispute. It's arguing, is this legal what the state did or not and the judge will hold a hearing this week and then I assume will take weeks or months to decide it then we'll get a result.  

Hren: Looking back, are there things you wish you would have done differently for the annexation?

Hamilton: I think one thing we didn't explain as well as we should have, the state is very specific about how you have to annexation - you have to start you process with the largest possible map. You can't start an annexation and expand or add. I regret Bloomington didn't annex for 15 years. I still think it's the right thing for the city. The city has annexed for 185 years.

Hren: I'm taking a question from our 'Inquire Indiana' portal that I think is good for our show, someone asked how does the city preserve its long time character with the need to have more housing? For example. Rhino's is going to be torn down soon, but replaced with more housing.

Hamilton: Very carefully and with a lot of discussion. There was never a time Bloomington didn't change. It's 200 years old, every year Bloomington has changed and it will continue to change. People want to live here. And it isn't time to lift the ladder up and say no one else is coming to Bloomington.

That means we need to think about, where are people going to live, but it also means we need to preserve what's important to Bloomington. But that feel and ambience came from change. That's a lot of dialogue, the comprehensive master plan, zoning, but it's the community debate and dialogue.  

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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